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Friday, 26 November 2010

It's pretty clear that things need to change. At least according to Food, Inc. (dir Robert Kenner, 2008), a documentary that draws together many of the activist strands that have appeared in the public sphere over the past decade and presents the viewer with a damning set of cognates suitable for inspiring a bit of consumer behaviour change. Of course, it's not all new. But it doesn't have to be. It just has to be interesting.

And the movie turns out to be fascinating, despite the fact that some of the large corporations whose practices are documented in the movie declined to appear on camera. They include Smithfield, a major US meat processing company, and Monsanto, a chemical company which uses extremely aggressive tactics - if the movie's allegations are correct - in order to compel farmers to use their seed and pesticide combinations, such as the products they market for soy production. Keeping and cleaning seed is anathema, it seems, for the company. Farmers are fearful of appearing on camera, too, lest they be sued. Legal action is one way that large corporations involved in food production keep farmers compliant. It is easier, the movie tells us, for them to go along with the crowd than to fight against the tide. And cheaper too.

The movie makes a compelling case for purchasing organic products when you visit the supermarket - which is where most of us buy our food, naturally. Especially in Australia. In the US, organic food companies are starting to be taken seriously by large operators such as Wal-Mart. In the film we see two clean-cut Wal-Mart employees surveying an organic farm, and then stocking the organic product. The pragmatic retailer sees an opportunity for profit in holding lines that, even five years ago, would not have been found on the shelves of their stores.

In the end, the film reminds us, it is up to the individual to change the way the industry operates. It's not just about petitioning a congressman to make sure there's another vote on "Kevin's Law" - a piece of legislation Democrat members of Congress have been pushing to pass through the House for almost a decade and that would see more scrutiny of companies whose meat products had been proved to cause sickness. It's also about where you buy food, and what you buy. The choice, the filmmakers tell us, is ours. What we do on a daily basis can change the way the food industry operates. By changing the food industry, they say, we can enjoy better food, and healthier lives.

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